Matters of Moment, July 1981

The Farnham Fuss

There has been a fine fuss going on in Farnham, Surrey, because the Urban District Council has resolutely refused to name its new Sports Centre after the late Mike Hawthorn, in honour of the great British racing driver who was brought up in the town and lived there at the height of his fame. This in spite of 7,576 people, mostly local ratepayers, having signed a petition in favour of so doing. There is irony in the fact that Councillors voting against the desire of the petitioners were elected to their high Council positions by far fewer votes!

In fact, only three out of some 20 Farnham Councillors were in favour of recognition of Hawthorn in the simple manner suggested, thereby ignoring the wishes of many who had voted them to power. Reasons given for not naming the new Sports Centre after one of our most accomplished racing drivers and a great, much-loved local character were that Mike was not born in Farnham (although he had lived there for 27 years), that the Sports Centre has no connection with motor racing, and the futile one that, if renamed, no-one would know where the place was — as if it could not be called the Farnham Mike Hawthorn Sports Centre. To her credit, Councillor Lady Anson suggested that Hawthorn’s name might be inscribed on an honours board somewhere in the new Sports Complex, and the Council is believed to have discussed naming the main sports hall therein after him.

This is a sad admission that the greatness of Hawthorn’s achievements is not understood by these stubborn Councillors, who at election time are so anxious to assure us that they represent the wishes of the electors. This cheerful young man, who had far more than his fair share of tragedy and anxiety in his brief life, was the first British driver to win the World Championship, when racing for Ferrari, in 1958, by one point from Stirling Moss; Moss has been honoured by the Establishment, whereas Mike was neglected. He won that great French GP at Reims in 1953 from Fangio, again in a Ferrari, the first British driver to win this race since Segrave in 1923. But Mike Hawthorn also drove British cars, from his initiation in Rileys and Cooper-Bristols, to winning Le Mans for Jaguar with Ivor Bueb and the Sebring 12-hours, also in a Jaguar D-type, with Walters. Incidentally, in 1951 Hawthorn won the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy, in those days contested at Goodwood. His racing driver father, also killed in a road accident, must have brought much business to Farnham with his well-known TT Garage. Yet the Councillors of Farnham refuse to recognise this accomplished, modest and charming local resident, in a manner as simple as naming a Sports Centre after him — never mind that in a very short space of time so many locals, including old ladies and those born after Mike had died made known what they wanted done . . .

The trouble seems to be that within days of Hawthorn’s death (he crashed his Jaguar on a day, as I well remember, of heavy rain and a freak wind, but no-one else was involved — Ed.) Maxwell Aylwin and the late Frank Brockway wrote to the National Press suggesting a memorial to the popular young racing-driver. This led to the Farnham Appeal and a parallel effort by a body of people at the RAC. Even then, the Farnham UDC was disinterested and the best that could be done, in spite of money subscribed in 1959 was a little pavilion in a local park not opened until 1970 and now said to be “a vandalised miserable hut”. The promise of extra help from the Council had evaporated.

Now, when it is sought to do proper justice to the memory of the “Farnham Flyer”, who is still respected, says Doug Nye, in far-away Modena, the Council points to this terribly poor existing memorial as all that is required! The moral seems to be, if you have something worthwhile to do, never start with anything less . . .

Had Mike Hawthorn been a foreigner, almost immediately after his fatal accident a memorial stone would no doubt have marked the spot where he drove for the very last time. And a suggestion of a better memorial in his home-town would undoubtedly have met with warm approval, instead of the icy indifference displayed by the Waverley (Farnham) Council. Housewife Maureen Covey did her best, with the petition and letters to the local Press, but to no avail. Perhaps it is time those who revere the memory of the one-and-only Mike Hawthorn, driver of Connaught, Vanwall and BRM as well as the cars named above, wrote to these unco-operative Councillors, bombarding them with requests for a fitting local memorial to a racing driver whom the Sporting Club honoured as Sportsman of the Year after his World Championship? All we are asking for is a Farnham Mike Hawthorn Memorial Sports Centre. It could be up to you.

The Mirror Weapon

Those who drive motor vehicles surely cannot fail to be depressed when reading local newspapers, due to the very frequent reports therein of motorists being fined heavily for very minor misdemeanours. From such reports in a paper we have just put down, it appears the excuse (duty if you like) that the Police are frequently using for stopping an estate car or van is the lack of an exterior mirror.

Once stopped for the offence of having only one mirror, the opportunity can be taken to check for all manner of things, such as a defective hand-brake, no test-certificate, tyres with insufficient tread, etc., etc. There are so many counts on which a vehicle can be faulted, even, as Trico Folberth Ltd., makers of those very efficient wiper-blades, remind us, a dirty windscreen. We are not suggesting that items that might render a vehicle dangerous should be permitted, or that vehicle laws should be flagrantly disregarded. But the extremely frequent vehicle checks, vide these local newspaper accounts, and the extremely savage fines and licence endorsements that invariably follow, are disturbing, and rather surprising in view of the growing amount of crime about for the Police to subdue. So often, these days, especially in rural areas, motor vehicles constitute an essential part of daily life, and it is easy to understand how minor digressions of the “Construction & Use” Act can inadvertently occur. One might think that a warning, perhaps the requirement that a slightly defective vehicle (such as one with only a single, but perfectly effective, mirror) be brought to a local Police station within a few days, to be re-checked. But no; however poor the owner, however hard a vehicle is worked, as the newspaper-columns tell us, the smallest defect inevitably results in very heavy fines, at a time when vehicle ownership is now taxed to the hilt, with little money being spent on better roads over which to run such vehicles.

It might be said that the fine for being caught with an insufficient number of mirrors on your car or van will be heavier than that inflicted had you stolen an additional mirror from someone else! So beware the mirror weapon . . .

It is sickening that, in an age when motor transport is a very essential part of daily life, so many unnecessary checks and traps are set-up by the Police, especially at a time when much more devastating crimes are ever on the increase. Mirrors apart, our local paper told the other day of a driver who was summonsed because, on finding a street ahead of him blocked, he had reversed, without causing the slightest danger or inconvenience to anyone. But he had reversed too far, in the eyes of a Policeman, and thus suffered an unbelievably high fine . . .

It seems that we are back to a similar war between Police and drivers as times when bobbies lay in ditches with cheap watches in order to catch luckless drivers doing more than 20 m.p.h. on deserted country roads. So if the Automobile Association and the RAC want to fight on their members’ behalf, as they did in the old 20 m.p.h. speed-trap days, they might, for a start, campaign strongly against the costly fines now being inflicted all the time for minor technical motoring offences.

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Alfa Romeos on display

In order to raise funds for the Jimmy Savile Stoke Mandeville Appeal, a display of Vintage and Classic Alfa Romeos will be taking place at the Sutherlands Arms Pub at Tibberton, between Newport and Shrewsbury, on Saturday, August 1st. An extension of permitted drinking hours has been obtained and the display, which is due to start at midday, is likely to run in to an evening jazz session.

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Wrong Historian

Our apologies to Mr. Brian Smith for referring to him as Mr. Field on page 962. We were mistakenly mixing him up with that other noted historian the late Dennis Field. Incidentally, Brian Smith tells us that although he is happy with Daimlers he has since had a Bentley SI James Young Continental saloon, followed by a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud I with SCT designed saloon body in magnificent condition, and that he now runs a 1955/6 4.9-litre Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith H.J. Mulliner touring limousine and a 1948 Mk. VI Bentley Hooper sports-saloon, incidentally with Lucas P100 headlamps. Thus does Brian Smith continue to satisfy his interest in fine chassis endowed with exquisite coachwork, while occasionally still pining for a Daimler. — W.B.

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Mercedes-Benz W196

A.H. has been soundly horse-whipped for referring to the 1955 Formula One Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix car as a W194 in the Maserati 250F feature in this issue. It should, of course, have been W196 — as he will now remember to his dying day.

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Additions to the Alfasud family

Since its inception in 1972, there have been so many variations on Alfa’s very successful small-car theme the Alfasud, that it is difficult to keep track of what is what. Now there are four more variants to add to the list, the 1.3, 1.3Ti, 1.5 and 1.5Ti hatchbacks. The two-door Ti is to be dropped, but the 1.5 Sprint Veloce will continue with the hatchbacks alongside the four-door versions.

Alfa Romeo have achieved the three-door configuration very effectively, maintaining almost exactly the same body shape and losing nothing in comfort, noise levels or performance. There are one or two draw-backs, such as the hatch release lever being positioned on the floor next to the passenger’s seat and a high rear sill, the latter necessary to maintain body stiffness without adding to weight.

The cars are typically Alfa, endowed with bags of character and delightful to drive, especially the 1.5Ti which, with its 95 b.h.p. engine, is a real flyer. Prices for the new hatchbacks range from £4,395 to £5,325. — P.H.J.W.

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Panda priced

As predicted last month, the new baby car from Fiat undercuts the price of the cheapest 127 by a few pounds. The Panda’s retail price is to be £2,860, inclusive of special car tax and VAT, but excluding delivery.

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Rileys Galore

Enthusiasts for the pre-war versions of this marque will be gathering at the Coventry Crest Hotel, Walsgrave near Coventry, over the weekend of July 4th/5th where they will be holding their 26th Annual Coventry Weekend. Spectators will be welcome on the Sunday, when driving tests will take place at the Old Riley Works in Coventry, at 9.00 a.m., followed by a Concours d’Elegance.

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Hill Climb

Alister Douglas Osborn has been consolidating his lead as the RAC Motor Sports Association Hill Climb Championship with very convincing style, taking fastest time of day both at Barbon in mid-May and at Shelsley at the end in the month. With five rounds completed at the time of writing, Douglas Osborn has given away only two points, one to Dave Harris at Wiscombe Park and the other to James Thomson at Loton. With the back-up provided by the Waring & Gillow/Maples team, ADO is in a very strong position to maintain his commanding lead throughout the season. His Pilbeam is obviously very well sorted, and, with the 3.6-litre Cosworth development engine, is particularly powerlul. His FTD at Prescott earlier in the season caused a few heads to nod, for Prescott is a hill with the reputation for favouring the smaller engined cars, which are usually more agile through the corners, thus his times at Shelsley, a power hill if ever there was one, were hardly surprising. The smaller cars, being unable to gain any advantage through the Esses, which never really dried throughout the day, were completely outclassed by Douglas Osborn’s rapid progress. By the time this issue is on sale, the rounds at Fintray, near Aberdeen and at Doune, near Stirling will be over, and the competitors will be taking a break before the two Channel Island rounds at the end of July. Both of the Scottish venues favour the more powerful cars, so Douglas Osborn’s lead is likely to be increased before the serious competitors set out.

James Thomson has had something of a meteoric rise to the forefront of hill climbing, but he still lacks much valuable experience. He ran Douglas Osborn a close second at Barbon, but at Shelsley he repeated his Prescott performance by finishing well up in the class runs, but trying just too hard during the all important top ten run off, smashing his nose-cone in the Esses on the first run and clouting the bank on the exit from these bends on his second attempt. At Prescott, he went straight on at Ettores on his first top ten run, making it to the top on his second.

Chris Cramer, last year’s champion, had a slow start to the season, sorting out his ex-Formula II Tolman, which he originally ran on Pirelli radial tyres. He has come to terms with the car very quickly, and has made a great success of altering the set-up to suit M & H cross plies. From failing to qualify for the top ten at all earlier in the season, Cramer was up to third place at Barbon, only 0.24 secs. behind Douglas Osborn, and took second place at Shelsley 0.71 secs, behind the winner, bringing him up to fifth place in the championship equal with Martyn Griffiths.